Vera Connell Bennett, 1889-1951
This quiet but strong Oklahoma mother was my great grandmother, the woman I am named after and well, she was the first Oklahoma Mother of the Year. I had no idea about that recognition until I read it in a book about Mothers of Achievement in American History. At the end of the anthology, which contained stories of famous women in every state, it also contained a list of every Mother of the Year since 1935 – which by itself, was a pretty cool listing. Naturally, I flipped to the state of Oklahoma and there was my great grandmother’s name – listed as the first Mother of the Year named in Oklahoma by the American Mothers Committee of the Golden Rule Foundation.
At the time, she was the biological mother to 5 children but also the mother to an entire college community. Her husband of 30 years was the President of Oklahoma A & M University (now Oklahoma State) and they lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Both Vera Connell and her husband, Henry G. Bennett, were educators. They met when he was the Superintendent of Schools in Hugo, Oklahoma and she was applying for a teaching position in Boswell. Both were big advocates of the public library system and believed the library should be the focal point of every college campus. This certainly applied at Oklahoma A&M. Anyone who has walks on that campus today would agree the library holds an enchanting presence on the lawn and quietly encourages a love of learning. We have taken lots of family photos over the years on that campus by a statue of my grandad which overlooks the Library Lawn. Here are a few of them.
Vera Connell Bennett is described as being of strong character with an independent mind. She made lists for Henry G. and the kids every morning which most likely was her quiet way of pushing them toward the high aspirations and goals she had set for them. I write of this only because I am a list maker too and since I share her unusual name, I smile knowing this trait has successfully been passed down albeit skipping a few generations!
History has recorded the close partnership that Henry G. and Vera Connell Bennett maintained throughout their marriage until their untimely death in a plane crash in Tehran, 1951. Henry G. was serving as the Undersecretary of State under President Truman and overseeing the 4 Point Program to help build nation states post WWII. They had been in Ethiopia and traveling to Iran when their plane went down. The State Department records indicate their bodies were found next to one another, having been ejected from the plane when it crashed into a mountainside, unable to find the runway in a snowstorm.
Just a little bit of history about an influential, Oklahoma mother.